10 Great Reasons to Volunteer in a Nursing Home

Posted by Dr. El - April 19, 2010 - Something Good About Nursing Homes, Volunteering - 35 Comments

Volunteering in a nursing home can be a rewarding, life-changing experience for many people and for a variety of reasons, some of which I’ve posted below. Please add your thoughts in the Comments section.

The Savvy Resident’s Guide is a quick read and a great way to get an overview of how nursing homes work and what residents are thinking. Go into the nursing home prepared. The guidebook is available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions. 

1. A little goes a long way: if you can push a wheelchair safely from one location to another, or sew on a button, you can be a hero.

2. For those considering a new career, it’s a great way to see if you’re interested in working with older adults. Based on US demographics, we’ll be needing a lot of folks who enjoy working with “people of age.”

3. Feeling lonely? A nursing home is like a small town. It won’t be long before everyone is happy to see you and greets you by name.

4. It puts your problems into perspective.

5. You can benefit from the experiences of others. Learning about life from those who have lived for a while is an invaluable gift.

6. You’ll fall in love with a new oldster every week.

7. Death won’t seem so scary after a while, but rather a natural and expected passage.

8. You’ll hear living history every day, if you take the time to listen.

9. Your time commitment can vary from daily to once a year and everything in between, making it an incredibly flexible way to give back to the world.

10. As you’re referring to the “nice-looking 86-year old lady” and the “handsome new guy on the second floor,” you’ll realize you don’t look so bad either.


For more on nursing home volunteers, see my earlier posts: Why Every Nursing Home Should Have a Volunteer Coordinator (and what they do) and 9 Uncommon Nursing Home Volunteer Positions I’d Like to See Filled


  • Lydia says:

    What sort of process one has to go through to volunteer at a nursing home – do they ask for a background check? references? a doctor's note stating that you don't have any communicable diseases?

    Many community groups ask for these types of things if one wants to work with children or other potentially vulnerable groups. I'm curious to hear if nursing homes have similar concerns?

  • Dr. El says:

    Great questions, Lydia. I spoke to a volunteer coordinator who said that nursing homes generally ask for a physical exam, a recent PPD (tuberculosis test), proof of immunity to measles and rubella, and three personal references in addition to an in-person interview and an orientation prior to becoming a volunteer.

  • Sue Samek says:

    Dr. El,

    A little does go a long way. Having worked closely with both volunteers and residents, residents are very appreciative of what volunteers do for them and it doesn't take much.

    Having been a supervisor of volunteers in many different facilities, I would like to add that while volunteers are utilized to perform any number of necessary tasks, they can often offer their services in one specific area. For example, a volunteer may only want to read to residents, or only assist in an arts & crafts group. I would like to suggest to your readers and potential volunteers to discuss their preferences with the person in charge. And just to reiterate what you have already said it is "…an incredibly flexible way to give back to the world."

    I would also like to add something that I often tell the volunteers, that they will get out of the volunteer experience what they put into it.

  • Carlyn says:

    I can definitely agree with #4. Great post!

  • Dr. El says:

    I like your idea, Sue, of volunteers letting the coordinator know their interests so they can be matched with the best volunteer opportunity. There are so many possibilities when we're creative about the experience.

    Thanks, Carlyn. I find it so helpful to be able to put things into perspective. There are times when I don't feel like doing certain chores, for example, and then I think to myself, well, at least I can be doing my chores.

  • Joan says:

    Being a volunteer in a Charlotte retirement community for 3 years now, I can attest that what you have stated in your blog is the truth. You will learn a lot about life when you are with them, each of their life stories will make you learn about the significance of one's life and how people are really individually unique. Because of that, my volunteer service for them is no more a duty, but rather it is my way of giving gratitude for their great stories and a reward for them living their life to the fullest. One day, if I'll ever reach the age of getting in the lifestyle of retirement living, Charlotte, NC will be the place I'll be staying in until I die since it is my hometown; there is a bond with me to that place.

  • Dr. El says:

    Thanks for sharing your positive experiences, Joan. I hope they inspire others to volunteer. I find the residents' stories as fascinating and informative as any interview with a "famous" person.

  • JohnnyMetal says:

    This is great! Volunteering has always put in place, my busy head forgets how fortunate I am at this moment. Thanks great reminders 🙂

  • Margaret says:

    My mother was in a nursing home in Albany, NY. I noticed how well cared for she was with volunteer work. I decided to help volunteer for others when I would visit, it lifted my spirit and I became more appreciated of my life.

  • Dr. El says:

    JohnnyMetal and Margaret, thanks for taking the time to comment. I see many family members helping out other residents when they're visiting their loved ones, as informal volunteers. Often families "adopt" roommates, bringing food for the two of them, or running occasional errands. It's very heartening.

  • Joyce says:

    My Mother was in a nursing home for four months before she went home to be with the Lord. Since her passing I have been volunteering at the same nursing home. I look forward to my weekly visits. It is my way of honoring God and keeping my Mother's spirit alive. The residents are precious and they bring joy into my world.

  • Dr. El says:

    Joyce, how beautiful! I'm sure you bring joy to the residents you visit. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • […] home, pointing out how much it’s appreciated by the residents and including a link to my post 10 Great Reasons to Volunteer in a Nursing Home.  This weekend I ran into a friend of mine with two young children.  She said she’d read my […]

  • Sybil says:

    I have 4 young grand girls age 6’11’12’13 who want to volunteer this summer at the nursing home where their grate grandmother lives.
    The administrator says they can. Now how do I get them ready for this and what kind of things can I have them do? I know they can help with arts and crafts, but what other things can they do and how can I help them with this experience thank you Sybil?

    • Dr. El says:

      Hi Sybil, What a great experience for your granddaughters! You might talk to them about some of the issues that affect nursing home residents and how to deal with them. For example, many of the residents can’t hear well, so your granddaughters might need to speak in a loud voice or repeat things. They should know that being pushed in a wheelchair feels a lot faster than when you’re the one pushing the wheelchair, so they should take it slowly. You could talk to them about how to work with the treatment team, such as letting the nurse know if they’re taking a resident off the floor. You could also let them know that you’re there for them to discuss any feelings that might come up around aging and infirmity and scary machines being used at the facility.

      As far as how they could help, it’s probably best to ask whoever is coordinating the volunteers at the nursing home. They’ll probably get some orientation regarding the issues mentioned above and some direction as to how they can help. For some general ideas, please see this post: http://www.mybetternursinghome.com/9-uncommon-nursing-home-volunteer-positions-id-like-to-see-filled/

  • Anonymous says:

    I know a lot of people who happen to circumstantially go to an old age home, and impulsively, because they cant resist it, give them money. They make a connection with one old person and hand out the cash to this person. While I understand how this makes the person feel like they’ve done something good, am I wrong in telling these people that giving their time is more important than money. or if they feel compelled to give something, I have tried suggesting fruits, food items or even clothes. Am I wrong in my argument? I think having hard cash on them makes the old people more vulnerable and we would be unwittingly putting them in jeopardy by giving them cash. Is there an alternative for these people who give cash, because they cant afford to make time to volunteer?

    • Dr. El says:

      Anonymous, I understand your sentiment because there are many very concrete needs residents have that don’t involve cash. As I’ve blogged about in the past Volunteer Positions, volunteers can help by offering their time to mend clothes, take residents outside for fresh air, etc. That being said, I know many residents greatly appreciate a small gift of money that allows them to buy the things they need, especially since the personal needs allowance hasn’t been increased for decades and doesn’t go as far as it used to. As far as I know, if receiving money has put a resident in jeopardy, it’s an isolated incident. If a visitor wants to help by offering cash, at least they’re helping.

  • mary says:

    hi i am the youth leader of the youth ministry at my church. And as part of the activities for this year we want to volunteer at a nursing home one saturday.What are the requirements as a group? And what are some of the things we can do as a group, when we go and volunteer for a day…thanks

    • Dr. El says:

      Hi Mary, Volunteering at a nursing home is a great activity for young people. I’ve seen groups come in and sing, run special activities, bring groups of residents outside for fresh air, etc. I’d love to see them sew on buttons and mend clothes or take care of other small tasks. Contact your local nursing homes to find out what their requirements are and what would work best for their particular residents and the age group you’re planning to bring.

  • Sabrina says:

    I have a project due 4-11-14 how can I volunteer at a nursing home?

    • Dr. El says:

      Sabrina, you could look up the nursing homes in your area and see which ones are available for volunteers. Try Googling “Department of Health” and “Nursing homes” and your state to find a list. They’ll probably have some requirements and training before you can start.

  • Anony-mouse says:

    Working at a nursing home is life-changing experience. I am fourteen years old and I volunteer at a Nursing home. I do activities with the residents such as playing games and doing crafts. Moreover, I take care of the Nursing home by watering plants that residents have planted in the area. You truly do learn a great deal from the residents and the volunteering experience itself.

    • Dr. El says:

      It’s great to hear you’re having a positive experience in the nursing home, Anony-mouse. Thanks for sharing your experience and encouraging others to give nursing home volunteer work a try.

  • Linda Lee says:

    After caring for my mother in my home for over two years, she went to a nursing home and lived there just shy of two years. I still visited her every day. At first it was uncomfortable because she was in a dementia unit but I quickly adjusted and made many friends. Oh how their faces would light up when I came through the door!
    It will be two years in April that my mom passed. I just now am returning to the nursing home as a volunteer. My cockapoo puppy and I go every Wednesday to visit at the same nursing home my mother was at. Walter (puppy) puts smiles on faces and relaxes the residence by their being able to show love and affection to him. It is a win win for everyone! The residents have company and love from both Walter and I. I go home feeling like I made a difference in their lives and mine and my dog seems to carry his head even higher knowing he did something very important by showing attention and love to the residents! I plan on increasing our visits to twice a week!

    • Dr. El says:

      Linda, I’m so glad to hear about your experiences as a volunteer. I know how much the residents appreciate your visits — it’s great that Walter enjoys them too!

  • Ishu Bajaj says:

    I have done BSC.MLT from India. Now i am doing Health Services from New Zealand. Now i want to get volunteer experience.how can I volunteer at a nursing home?

    • Dr. El says:

      Most nursing homes are happy to have reliable volunteers. Contact your local nursing homes and ask them the requirements to become a volunteer and what services they need performed so you can find a place that best suits your interests.

  • Raewyn says:

    I help out in a nursing home and have done for the past three years…I really enjoy spending time with the older generation, and helping where needed. I mainly help out wiht activities, and transporting residents to the activities. Also during BBQ days they have once a month I then become one of the Waitreses handing out their meals.
    As a volunteer there is many things you can and can’t do in a nursing home such as, removing them from their wheel chair into a normal chairs, you aren’t aloud to feed them of give them a drink mainly for safety reasons as the other staff members have to do that.
    I have had many conversations with mild dementia residents in the past, and have learnt so much from their life experiences. In the first year I was a little emotional when someone close passed away, but as time goes on, I have become used to the residents coming and going. It is also a good thing to do, and that is ask to attend some of the aged acre courses they might have running for the staff. That will enable you to understand how the aged care home runs, and what is expected of you. Also another great thing that I have done in the past is going on the net and completing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) in dementia care. These course will really open your eyes to older people who suffer from dementia.

  • Natalie says:

    I’ve recently volunteered at the local nursing home and they’re going to give me a call back next week. I’m just wondering should I expect an interview or informal chat?

    • Dr. El says:

      Congratulations, Natalie, on volunteering. I’d expect an interview since they’ll want to make sure the volunteers coming in to help with a vulnerable population are upstanding citizens with good motives. This could still be a pleasant conversation though.

  • Suzan says:

    I do lot of volunteering in seniors residence ,like performing,participating in organizing activities ,and trying to make them happy and feel not lonely.. I am thinking to become an activities coordinator in a senior residence where seniors are independent ,they still capable taking care of themselves .there are lot of talented seniors as welll. Would you please inform me how I can improve myself and educate more to become a good coordinator .. I am interested to take on line courses if available. what do you suggest to me Dr. ELEANOR BARBARA

  • Joye says:

    My sister has parkinson’s disease and has been in a nursing home for 3 years. While we speak on the phone every day, It is very difficult for me to go and visit her. It is not her, it is the facility.I work full time and go when I can. When I go in many of the residents are lined up in the corridors just sitting there, gazing out into space. It is heartbreaking. I try and do what I can for her when I am there. Many times she complains of little things like getting her another blanket. Or more water, Things we take for granted but they just cant do anymore. They do not have enough CNA’s to cover all the people that are there. I know if there were volunteers to help with the minor things for the residents that take the valuable time from the CNA’s it would be a huge help to the staff. I thought about starting up a volunteer program at the nursing home, but do not know where to start. The Director that is presenting there is only temporary since the previous director was let go. I have met with him and he is a very caring person. Should I contact him and see if this is something that this facility would accept? And possibly he could direct me to the next step in the process. Dr. El, what do you suggest?

    • Dr. El says:

      Dear Joye, I know exactly what you’re saying. I’ve often thought that I could spend my entire day at the nursing home acting as a general “helper” for everyone and still there would be more that could be done. It’s difficult to see people in need and not to be able to help them. I think your idea of setting up a volunteer program at the nursing home is an excellent one. You could certainly talk to the current director and see what he says. Volunteers are frequently managed by the recreation director if there is no volunteer director position, so the recreation director might be another person to speak with at the facility. Before you do that, though, I’d encourage you to think about what you’re hoping to get from doing this and whether you have the time and emotional resources to run a volunteer program. If you’d like to speak with me about this in more detail, feel free to set up a coaching session via the Speaking, Coaching, Biz Consultation page.

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